Japan will allow international cruise ships to dock at its ports, transport minister Tetsuo Saito said Tuesday, lifting a more than two-year ban imposed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to stem the virus' spread in the country.
The ministry has determined enough preparations have been made to accept ships carrying large groups of people, with guidelines crafted by industry associations to prevent the spread of infections among passengers.
Passengers who are suspected to be infected need to be tested, and those with positive results and their close contacts quarantined.
Even if an outbreak occurs, the ships can continue their operations so long as a doctor on the ship can determine that the virus can be contained, the guidelines said. However, the ship's cruise schedule will be shortened if more than 10 percent of the passengers are infected.
According to the Japan International Cruise Committee, 166 visits by foreign cruise ships are already planned from next March.
The halt on international cruise ships had been in place since March 2020, after a coronavirus cluster infection on the Diamond Princess caused thousands to be quarantined in Yokohama near Tokyo the month before and left 13 of over 700 infected passengers and crew dead.
Cruise companies will hold discussions with the local authorities of the port of call and seek agreements on docking.
All crew members of a ship must be vaccinated three times against the virus, and more than 95 percent of passengers must be vaccinated at least twice under the guidelines.
The guidelines were vetted by infectious disease and crisis management specialists and reviewed by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and related government agencies.
The government hopes opening the border to international cruise lines will help recover inbound tourism to pre-pandemic levels by 2025.
In 2019, prior to the pandemic, around 2.15 million cruise passengers visited Japan, spending around 80 billion yen ($575 million), according to the ministry, with 1,932 stops made by ships of foreign cruise companies, and 934 by those belonging to domestic companies.
International cruise ship operations resumed in the United States and Europe from around June 2021.